Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) was the most impressive rider of the five-man winning breakaway on stage 4 of Paris-Nice. With his compatriot Francis de Greef (Omega Pharma-Lotto), he accompanied the French trio of eventual stage winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), the new king of the mountains Rémi Pauriol (FDJ) and the revived Rémy Di Gregorio (Astana).
“De Gendt was stronger than me,” Voeckler acknowledged afterwards, and he was full of praise for the Belgian, who took the yellow back after Matt Goss’ interlude. “He rode hard because of the advantage he had on GC. I’m not easily impressed but today, De Gendt really impressed me.
“It’s not the first time though. Last year when I came sixth in the Flèche Brabançonne, he was at the front. Philippe Gilbert and I chased him down but we never caught him. So when he won stage 1 of Paris-Nice on Sunday, I wasn’t surprised. I knew who he was.”
De Gendt was happy to hear Voeckler’s appraisal. “But if I hadn’t had the yellow jersey in sight today, probably we would have ridden differently and the breakaway would not have been successful”, said the Vacansoleil rider, who prevented the bunch from catching them by driving at the front of the break in the final ten kilometres.
“I hope I’ll recover from that by tomorrow,” he said. “Stage 5 is very serious one. When the climbs have a gradient of 6 or 7%, that’s no problem for me, but we’ll face 10%, so I don’t know if I can survive. I hope I will. I’m also confident of doing a decent time trial. If it’s the case, then I’ll target the top 10.”
Whatever happens until Nice, De Gendt will be seen as a different rider on the start line of the Classics and Vacansoleil’s management intends to line him up at all of them.
“I might not be able to be a protagonist in the last fifty kilometres of the classics but I’m also not being asked to do that,” De Gendt said. Directeur sportif Hilaire van der Schueren plans for him to hit the front and make the one-day races hard with 100km to go, in order to favour attacks from Stijn Devolder and Björn Leukemans.